Authentic scientific research led by child research teams

A team of children aged 7 - 11 conducted original scientific research with a bit of help from me, their Scientist / Inventor in Residence

Photo of Carole Kenrick
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Background

I am the Scientist / Inventor in Residence in a primary school in London, UK. I am based in a lab in the school, where I invite children to investigate their own questions about science, and turn their ideas for inventions into reality. I also run a STEAM club involving other local schools, and a Management Committee of children, who lead on STEAM projects, competitions and events to inspire the whole school community.

Authentic scientific research - led by children

This is a reflection on one aspect of my role: facilitating child-led original and authentic scientific research. As with all our investigations, this one began with a question. This time it came from a parent, who wanted to know whether it was worth spending extra money on Manuka honey (incredibly expensive - up to £60 or $80 per jar, popular as a natural remedy in some circles) to eat it and ward off colds. So I assembled a team of children, who gave up part of their holiday to learn about bees, honey, medical trials and the placebo effect. 

This team of children, nicknamed the Beesearchers, then did everything - they designed the study; put together an action plan; prepared and administered the paperwork; collected, typed up and analysed the data. They asked a researcher at Imperial College London for feedback on their protocol, which they acted on. Finally, they wrote up their report and presented their findings at the Cheltenham Science Festival - the first children to ever do so.

The rose

I cannot even begin to express the impact this project had on the children directly involved as Beesearchers, and on the whole school community. In addition to the expected increase in their understanding of medical science and research, I also saw the children gain massively in confidence and passion for science. Knowing that they had discovered something new - answered a question that no-one could previously answer - meant such a great deal to them. They consider themselves as scientists, as a result of this project. In my termly pupil surveys I am still seeing children write that this is their favourite thing they have ever done in the lab. A couple of my favourite quotes below...

"The Manuka honey experiment was my favourite because it never got boring and taught me a new way to investigate"

"I enjoyed the Manuka honey project as it felt big in a small school"

The thorn

We had hoped that, by sharing our story, documentation, protocol, etc. that other schools would try replicating our study to increase our sample size and give us greater confidence in our results. Unfortunately the cost of the honey (we applied for funding to cover this) and the amount of time required from a teacher as well as the students seem to have been a barrier. For this reason we have made an effort to design other child-led original research (we have one study in progress and are currently applying for funding for another) to make it less costly and time intensive.

Links

Here's an interview on Canadian TV show Global News:

http://globalnews.ca/video/2045518/students-put-hanuka-honey-to-the-therapeutic-test

I share what I do on our lab twitter feed:

https://twitter.com/Lab_13Gillespie

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe something you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research.

Treat children as scientists, and they will become scientists.

Attachments (1)

issue36_Manuka.pdf

Science in School article about our research

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Photo of Erin Quinn

Fascinating! Although you didn't have luck with the honey due to cost, I think the concept behind this is a great idea - getting kids working on researching and experimenting to solve a real scientific problem, and collaborating with others beyond the walls of the school - has real merit. Thank you for sharing the roses and thorns of this one!

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